clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Would Rams have still made Matthew Stafford trade with healthy Sam Bradford?

What if Sam Bradford had stayed healthy?

St Louis Rams v Carolina Panthers

One of the biggest ‘what-ifs’ in recent memory when it comes to the Los Angeles Rams is quarterback Sam Bradford and his health. Taken number one overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, Bradford was considered the player who would save the Rams franchise after nearly a decade of losing.

Unfortunately, due to a myriad of circumstances that weren’t necessarily completely in Bradford’s control, the former Oklahoma quarterback’s story was more of a tragedy than it was about a player who saved a franchise. If Shakespeare were to write a tragedy, the two main characters were Bradford and the Rams. Two characters who seemed meant to be, but in the end were bad for each other.

There were, of course, good moments. The Rams came one game away from the playoffs in Bradford’s rookie season, losing to Charlie Whitehurst and the Seattle Seahawks in a Week 17 win-or-go home game. Still, Bradford won rookie of the year and looked to be on a path to success.

What followed was a series of false hopes, instability, and injury riddled seasons. Bradford missed the majority of the 2011 season with a hurt ankle, but bounced back in Jeff Fisher’s first season as head coach. Through six weeks in 2013, Bradford ranked fifth in the NFL in touchdown passes and had a 13:3 touchdown to interception ratio.

Then, in Week 7, Bradford tore his ACL while getting tackled out of bounds by Carolina Panthers safety Mike Mitchell. Returning the following preseason, Bradford tore his ACL once again in 2014 and would miss the entire year. The Rams traded Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nick Foles the following offseason.

In five years with the Rams, Bradford had two different head coaches and three different offensive coordinators. He never had a true number one wide receiver and both of his head coaches were defensive-minded.

Instability for a young quarterback is a recipe for disaster. Combine that with the injuries and Bradford didn’t stand a chance. When the Rams traded Bradford to the Eagles, it was time to move on for both sides. For a number one pick that had so much promise and potential, it ended as a story with a bunch of ‘what-ifs.’

The second-round pick that the Rams received in the Bradford-Foles trade was eventually sent to the Tennessee Titans to draft Jared Goff. Following a disastrous rookie season, it would be Goff that would eventually help turn the Rams franchise around with new offensive coach Sean McVay.

It’s interesting to think about what would have happened had Bradford been able to stay healthy. Even if he still had to deal with coaching instability, what would have happened if he had at least been able to remain healthy until Sean McVay arrived in 2017?

Bradford was built to play in a McVay-like system. His accuracy combined with his decision-making, ability to understand timing, and his play-action success all would have made him a great fit. While a pocket-passer, Bradford had underrated athleticism that unfortunately was affected by the injuries.

During the 2012 season, Bradford had the fifth-most touchdown passes in play-action according to Pro Football Focus. This was the case again the following season as through the first six weeks, Bradford ranked second in the NFL in touchdowns on play-action passes.

Would Bradford have been able to have a similar season as Goff in 2017 when the Rams attempted the fourth-most passes out of play-action?

It’s hard not to see a healthy Bradford having some level of success with McVay. With three viable options at wide receiver, the former Rams quarterback set a NFL record with a 71.6 completion percentage. Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph each had over 800 yards with the Minnesota Vikings. Bradford never had that many talented options while with the Rams. Would he have done the same with Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Tyler Higbee?

The Rams may have been able to win a similar number of games with Bradford under McVay just as they did with Goff. The question here however, is whether or not they still would have had to trade for Matthew Stafford. Goff was fine, but McVay and Snead both found it necessary to upgrade when the opportunity presented itself. Would they have still needed to do so with a healthy Bradford?

When it comes to Bradford, the idea is often much better than what the reality was even in his good years. Of course the injuries had some effect on what his ceiling ended up being. It’s impossible to know what would have happened had he stayed healthy.

Still, it’s fair to wonder if the success that Bradford did have is slightly overrated due to the level of disappointment that the Rams had prior to his arrival. Bradford was a bright light when everything else was dark.

In 2013, Bradford arguably had his best season with the Rams. While he ranked in the top-five in touchdown passes, he was just 18th in EPA per play. The Rams offense meanwhile ranked just 23rd in DVOA while Bradford finished the season 19th in DYAR according to Football Outsiders. His -5.0 completion percentage over expectation also was the second-worst in the NFL during the first six weeks.

Of course, every quarterback under Fisher struggled to find success. It’s more than fair to blame the offensive system. As we learned with Stafford, situation for a quarterback matters.

However, in 2016, despite setting a NFL record in completion percentage with the Vikings, Bradford only ranked 20th in EPA and 16th in DYAR. Bradford never had a season in which he ranked inside the top half of the league in EPA. Very rarely in his career did he ever add to an offense.

The ability to add to an offense is the primary reason why the Rams traded for Stafford. The McVay-Shanahan system is one of the more quarterback-friendly systems in the NFL. Bradford would have been a great fit, but the level of success in that system likely wouldn’t have gone past what Goff did. Quarterbacks such as Matt Schaub, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Brock Purdy have found success in this system.

With that said, Bradford probably would have been closer to the level Garoppolo, leaving the Rams still looking to upgrade at quarterback.

It’s fun to think about what would have happened if the Rams hadn’t failed Bradford and if the quarterback had been able to stay healthy. However, everything happens for a reason. The Rams traded Bradford to the Eagles and received a second-round pick. That second-round pick was sent to the Titans which allowed the Rams to draft Goff. The Rams then traded Goff to acquire Stafford. With Stafford, the Rams went on to win their first Super Bowl in Los Angeles. None of that happens without Bradford.